The Gospel of Mark in a nutshell
This gospel is a phenomenal short story about Israel’s God, Israel’s King and Israel’s glorious kingdom. The very first sentence of the Gospel of Mark, whether functioning as a title of the work or introducing the gospel to the hearer, reads as follows: “Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ υἱοῦ θεοῦ.”
The first noun is archei (Ἀρχὴ) from which we get our English “arch-”. This word is used as in arch-enemy or archbishop and simply means first, head, or beginning; but there is another interesting way to translate this word, and that is as ruler or as someone in charge. The last meaning fits very well into the overall kingship and power motif of the Gospel of Mark. However, it is very difficult to see how it could be translated this way, so translate it as “beginning” just as others do.
The second word is euvangelion (seen here as εὐαγγελίο) is a compound word that combines two Greek words “good” and “message”, rightfully forming our English word Gospel or Good News. This word, even though written in Koine Greek, invokes an ancient Israelite (Biblical) idea that the prophet Isaiah expressed. As we will see, the Gospel of Mark is steeped in the Israelite prophetic tradition. In Isaiah 52:7-10 we read:
7 How lovely on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace
And brings good news of happiness,
Who announces salvation,
And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
They shout joyfully together;
For they will see with their own eyes
When the Lord restores Zion.
9 Break forth, shout joyfully together,
You waste places of Jerusalem;
For the Lord has comforted His people,
He has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared His holy arm
In the sight of all the nations,
That all the ends of the earth may see
The salvation of our God.
The picture here is as follows – messengers from the field of battle run to Israel’s capital city to announce that Israel’s God and Israel’s army have defeated their enemies. The Lord God fought on behalf of Israel and showed the nations of the world that He is King, committed to the ultimate well-being of His people – Israel. The watchmen, standing on the walls of Jerusalem, are charged with providing an early warning about anything they see from afar. They first see jubilant faces of the messengers and are charged to begin announcing this joy inside the city of God.
Now let us talk about the name Jesus. The proper English name “Jesus” in the New Testament comes to us from Greek, via Latin and German. Greek Ἰησοῦς is a Judeo Greek transliteration of the Hebrew name Joshua, coming into the New Testament directly from the Judeo-Greek document called the Septuagint (LXX). The Septuagint uses the Greek name ᾽Ιησοῦς to translate the Old Testament name “Joshua” and its later shorter version Yeshua (Neh.8:17: 1Chron.24:11). (Any suggestion that the name Jesus has pagan roots and is somehow connected with Zeus has no basis what so ever).
As we turn our attention to the next word, we come to the word Christ. It was the above-mentioned Judeo-Greek Septuagint that translated the word Messiah (מָשִׁיחַ) with the word Christ (Χριστός). In Greek it means the anointed one. Remember that this translation was done before Jesus lived by Jews and not by Greeks. This means that there is nothing particularly non-Jewish about referring to Jesus as Messiah, Moshiach or as Christ.
Additionally, the Anointed one (Moshiah in Hebrew and Christos in Greek) was a concept that combines three crucial functions – that of prophet, priest and king. The Gospel of Mark announces Jesus as someone who is successfully fulfilling all three of these offices. So far, every concept that is considered in this verse was steeped in the idea of Israelite kingship.
The Gospel continues with one more crucially important statement about who Jesus is. From the outset, it calls him the Son of God. Demons and a Roman centurion will both call Jesus the Son of God as we will later see. The concept of the Son of God in the minds of the ancients (Jewish or otherwise) was essentially a significant royal figure. When ancient kings were crowned, they were considered to have become the sons of gods or of a god. Israel’s idea about its own kings was no different. Israel’s lawful king at the time of coronation would also become a Son of God as we can see from Psalm 2. There we read King David speaking:
אֲסַפְּרָ֗ה אֶֽ֫ל חֹ֥ק יְֽהוָ֗ה אָמַ֘ר אֵלַ֥י בְּנִ֥י אַ֑תָּה אֲ֝נִ֗י הַיּ֥וֹם יְלִדְתִּֽיךָ׃
“I will surely tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.”
It is curious that another term, the Son of Man, seems to play an even more central role in this Gospel (it is used 10 times); while the term Son of God is used only three times in the entire Gospel. There is a possibility that this phrase (the Son of God) was in the original gospel manuscript, but we also have a number of manuscripts that do not contain this last phrase. In these manuscripts, everything stops at the declaration of Jesus as the Messiah. Whether or not the original had or did not have this phrase, nothing is changed. Jesus is set forth as the Anointed one. What does it all mean? We will soon find out.
Oh, God, help us to understand what all it means to have Jesus as
The King of over us and align our lives with this fact.